James McTeigue is a director who made his name as the assistant director on the Matrix Trilogy, and swiftly followed that work with a very capable adaptation of V For Vendetta. V was a film that is oft maligned, but in all honesty is a far stronger piece of cinema than some quarters might give it credit, and made McTeigue one to watch. It seems that McTeigue’s pedigree as a Matrix-ian alumnus gives publicists free reign to hype his work as "From the Makers Of …" – a red-flagged instant promise of retina-scarring hyperkinetic action and balletic superhuman grace.
Indeed, it cannot be denied that Ninja Assassin does actually feature the aforementioned action tropes, but whilst Korean actor/pop star / martial artist Rain demonstrates a painful and rigorous physical regime, the bulk of his ninjesque interaction is so heavily augmented with CGI blood spurts and seemingly hand-drawn shadows that they are rendered as toothless and contrived as the espionage plot on which this all loosely hangs.
Yes, it’s true, there is a plot of sorts. Harris is a feisty young thing working in Berlin’s Europol office, and happens upon a conspiracy of high profile political assassinations that may well be linked to the super secret Ozunu Clan. Said clan is the former home of our hero Raizo, and before long the two are working together to expose the truth, while avoiding getting a ninja star through the face. The film also flashes erratically to sequences documenting Raizo’s life of brutal suffering and training at the Ozunu headquarters – ultimately these serve no narrative purpose other than to establish that the titular hero is a hard-bitten, bad-ass ninja, but really, that is already patently obvious.
What we have here is a plot that has been cribbed together out of fragments of '80s Nintendo games – when the Western actors’ nodding heads pop up to deliver the next slice of exposition, you find yourself looking for a “Start” button which you can skip and get to the action, only to then be confounded that you cannot actually control the chain-sword wielding warrior in front of you. Audiences of a certain testosterone-fuelled demographic will no doubt enjoy the fights and talk over the boring grey bits. Ninja Assassin – you have seen it all before, so now you don’t have to.